It’s been a tough year for Mookie Betts. An inconsistent year. After winning Major League Baseball’s MVP Award in 2018, this season has been a grind for the 26-year-old superstar outfielder for the Boston Red Sox.
Over the last month, Mookie has started to come to life, and to return to that superstar level of play. Last Friday, his bat made some serious noise as the Sox crushed the Yankees at Fenway Park for the second straight night. In his first three at-bats, Mookie hit three home runs. When asked afterwards what he was thinking as he stepped up to the plate, he said: “You’re not really thinking. That’s the main thing, you kind of turn your brain off and just play.”
I’m a baseball fan. It’s a lot like yoga.
I like the sound of the bat hitting the ball, the intense green color of the grass, the precision of the chalk lines laid out on the field. I like the unique terminology of baseball: the diamond, the dugout, the dinger. Bullpens, beanballs and blown saves. In a nod to the great George Carlin, I like that runs are scored in baseball by “going home.” Baseball is a lot like life: there are moments of intense activity, but mostly it’s a lot of hanging on long enough to notice how amazing it is.
I also like the sound of the breath moving with the body, the intense focus of the mind and the precision of clear instruction in the yoga postures. I like the unique terminology of yoga: dharma, drishti and downward-facing-dog. Camel, cobra and cat pose. Even Carlin once said: “Sit in front of a window for a couple of hours a day. It’s good for ya!” Yoga is a lot like life: there are moments of intense activity, but mostly it’s hanging on long enough to notice how amazing it is.
I haven’t worn a pair of spikes in almost 40 years, but I can still remember the feeling of those white Adidas cleats digging into the grass at Memorial Field. I played center field for the 1980 Concord High Crimson Tide team, coached by Warren Doane. There were some amazing players on that team (I wasn’t one of them), but what I remember most is that it was an amazing group of high school kids who learned to work together as a team.
That’s what happens to your body in the yoga room. The pieces become a team. The practice of yoga starts with individual body parts, moving and squeezing and struggling along. We learn how to move those individual parts in various positions, much like we learn to swing a bat, field a ground ball or throw a slider. The moves can be tough to learn, and there is some struggle. Some successes, and some failures. And we repeat. Again and again. It all starts with the body, and learning to control it. We learn to move better. We feel better, and our moves become more confident. Then we must learn to focus the mind. If the teaching (or coaching) is done right, we learn to stay focused on the task, and the frequency turns to precision. It becomes more automatic, and what high-level athletes call “the zone.” That’s where Mookie was Friday night. After years of practice, and years of swings and misses to reach that level of sport, he can “turn (the) brain off and play.”
We have an occasional visitor to our studio who knows the parallels between baseball and yoga well. Bob Tewksbury, a Concord native and the pride of Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook, pitched for six MLB teams, and was an All-Star in 1992 for the San Diego Padres. We’ve talked a lot about yoga and baseball. He is a pioneer in the field of mental skills coaching (Tewksbury is now the mental skills coach for the Chicago Cubs). I remember talking in the changing room, after practicing a class together. I asked him how his back was feeling. I can’t remember his exact words, but he said: “It would feel better if I practiced more often. It’s hard to work on that space between my ears when my back is barking at me.”
Step on in to a yoga studio and give it a go. Step on up to the plate and get in “the zone.” Remember that Mookie had to strike out a lot of times, over a lot of years, to hit a few homers. Yoga, like baseball, takes its time. The baseball games will end in the fall. The yoga studio has classes every day, all year long. Play ball, my friends.
(Mike Morris is the owner of Hot House NH Yoga & Pilates.)